July 17, 2016 — Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Most of us are familiar with what we call the Four Pillars of Stewardship: Prayer, Hospitality, Formation, and Service. These four ways of looking at what it means to be a disciple and a steward invite each of us to witness, experience, and live the stewardship way of life. Stewardship is how we respond to our Baptismal call to discipleship. The readings on this Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time are particularly insightful in relation to the meaning and importance of hospitality.
In the First Reading from the Book of Genesis, Abraham is resting and relaxing near the entrance of his tent in the shade of a tree (note that a terebinth is a kind of tree), when suddenly three strangers appear. Scripture leaves no doubt as to who one of the three was: “The Lord appeared to Abraham.” We might say there are two kinds of hospitality at work here. The first is the obvious in that Abraham rushes to welcome these visitors and to do everything he can to make them feel welcome and contented.
The second is more subtle, but perhaps even more critical. Abraham is welcoming God into his life and the life of his household. Hospitality certainly involves how we treat and how we deal with strangers and visitors in our lives, but it also has to do with whether we are open and welcoming to the presence of God in our lives. In Old Testament terms it is clear that in this case God is in the Person of Jesus Christ. Throughout the Old Testament we find harbingers of Jesus, as it is in the human Son that God appears. We must always be prepared to welcome Him, just as Abraham was.
It is believed that St. Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians from where our Second Reading is drawn from his jail cell in Rome. Paul speaks of “suffering” for others, for the sake of the Colossians. However, he also assures them that his “sufferings” are the result of his embracing Jesus as his Guide and Savior. Paul understands that hospitality begins with welcoming the Lord into your lives. That is what makes all the difficulties of being hospitable to others, to strangers, so easy.
Paul speaks of the Church, “of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me.” This is another somewhat latent characteristic of stewardship. When we are indeed hospitable, we are doing it in the Lord’s name; we are representing His Church and His Disciples. St. Paul preached Jesus (“It is he whom we proclaim.”). That is what we preach when we show hospitality.
Our Gospel Reading from Luke is all about hospitality. It is clear in this Gospel that there are those two kinds of hospitality as cited earlier in this reflection. There is the hospitality of Martha, the one who makes sure the Lord and His followers are welcomed, comforted, and provided with all the elements of good service. The point of this Gospel in no way diminishes Martha’s efforts to be the perfect hostess. But Jesus wants Martha (and us) to know that the other side of hospitality, welcoming Jesus and His teachings into our life, is just as important, if not more so.
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.” Like Martha we may focus on others and provide the hospitality to which we are called as Disciples of Christ, a hospitality we need to offer as part of our parish lives. On the other hand, we also need to be like Mary; there are times when we need to “sit at Jesus; feet.” We need to serve others, but we need to recognize the importance of having a continued focus on Jesus as well. If we do not have that, like Martha, we will become frustrated and dissatisfied.